By Sam Finley

She may be only 5-foot-9, but her play can ignite a major spark for the University of Oregon women’s basketball team. Te-Hina Paopao has the ability, whether it’s inside with a quick layup or outside with a three-pointer, to make opponents pay when she’s got her shooting touch going. The sophomore guard from Oceanside, California, won’t deny that putting down a few buckets in a row gives her and the Ducks a big lift.

“It really helps my confidence,” Paopao says. “When I have the hot hand, my teammates are going to tend to find me a little more. So, it really helps me, and it really helps the team.”

It hasn’t always been easy for her, however. Last season, while an All Pac-12 standout, Paopao suffered a lower leg injury and missed playing in the NCAA Tournament. Then at the beginning of this season, she got hurt yet again and missed most of the non-conference slate. And when she came back, she was inconsistent, and so was her team’s performance. Fortunately, her coaches kept faith in her and helped her get back to being one of the team’s top three scorers.

“She just needed to see the ball go through the hoop a couple of times,” explains head coach Kelly Graves. “Once she did that, she became the old Te-Hina that we’re used to seeing. She just needs to keep getting even more confidence and she’ll be where we expect her to be.”

The Oregon Ducks take on the Carroll College Saints at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene on January 2, 2022. (Eric Evans Photography)

Her teammates also had a big hand in getting her going once more, just as she has done for them on numerous occasions. Not so much with her words, but by example.

“Te-Hina is awesome,” says guard Maddie Scherr. “She had her struggles, but we had her back and helped to pick her up. That was important to us, because she’s a leader by action and keeps us all locked in. That’s just the role that she plays and is a great teammate. Just as we picked her up, she’s always picking up others as well.”

The picking-up has been evident, as the Ducks have gone from underachieving early on to being on track for yet another NCAA Tournament appearance. Paopao has certainly shined during that time, with a 19-point effort in a win over Arizona State as well as a 22-point showing in a victory against Arizona State. But she says it’s not just her personal performance that has made things better; the play of everyone on the roster has improved.

“We’ve all understood that we needed to up our game,” Paopao says. “It hasn’t been a matter of coming together, but we have gotten more energy from each other and have started to play more aggressive.”

And with that extra aggressiveness comes more frequent wins.

“We’re finally starting to put the pieces together,” she explains. “But just seeing everyone accept their role and do what they’re supposed to do is a real joy, to see that we are all starting to glue together. When we move the ball around, we find those open shooters. I just think that once we move the ball around, we stop being stagnant offensively, and we start getting buckets and scoring points.”

As for what it will take for a successful postseason run for her Ducks, it’s all about consistency and togetherness.

“We just have to hold onto each other and trust each other,” Paopao says. “As long as we can get great offensive and defensive games for 40 minutes, we’ll be great.”